Albion face a second newly-promoted side in a matter of days on Sunday as Middlesbrough visit the Hawthorns for the lunchtime televised fixture, with Tony Pulis looking for a better result than was achieved against Northampton on Tuesday evening.
Like the Cobblers, Middlesbrough’s promotion and unbeaten start to the season means that the Teesiders are protecting an impressive unbeaten league run. It’s not quite as impressive as Northampton’s, who haven’t lost a league game in 2016 (a 3-0 defeat to MK Dons in the FA Cup being their only defeat in this calendar year), but Boro have gone twelve league games since their last defeat, at Charlton in March, although like Albion, they crashed out of the EFL Cup this week at the hands of lower league opposition losing 2-1 at Championship Fulham.
Following the Baggies cup exit, the calls for Pulis to be sacked have become somewhat louder with #pulisout trending nationally on Twitter late on Tuesday evening, although one commentator, Graeme Brown from the Birmingham Mail, has offered a counter opinion although I’m not sure I entirely follow his logic. While I understand, if not completely agree with, his point that Pulis may be the only man who can keep Albion up at the moment, his comment that the new owner should “keep his hands in his pocket” seems to be suggesting that Albion don’t try to spend any money in the next few days when it is clear that the squad is in desperate need of improvement.
The one comment from Mr Brown that I wholeheartedly agree with is that this summer’s transfer activity has been a horror show. With just a few days to go, Albion have made just one permanent signing and, while there are plenty of rumours, nothing looks particularly close to happening. It’s difficult to know why it has been such a frustrating window, and while the takeover cannot have helped, does Pulis’s reputation also put players off? When players see good pros like Callum McManaman, Sébastien Pocognoli and Cristian Gamboa effectively frozen out of the team, and loan signings like Serge Gnabry and Alex Pritchard virtually unused, would they not think twice before coming to the Hawthorns? And that’s before any concerns over the style of football are taken into consideration.
In reality, however, now is probably not the right time to get rid of Pulis as that would not help any deals that may well be in negotiation. Unless, of course, there are a string of players waiting in the wings who would sign for the club if Pulis wasn’t there! As Graeme Brown said, we are probably stuck with the Welshman for the time being, but bar any dramatic improvement in results and entertainment, making a change ahead of the January window would seem prudent.
The fact remains that Albion have won just one of their last 12 games and were distinctly unimpressive in pre-season. The win at Palace did little to mask the deficiencies in the squad. The shots-on-goal statistics in the last two games are a little better than we became used to last season, but the manner of the four goals conceded so far is very worrying for a side that is supposed to put defence before anything else.
The one positive from Tuesday’s debacle was the performance of the youngsters who got their chance, but I’m not expecting to see any of them in the starting line-up for a Premier League game anytime soon. Pulis rarely gives the youth a chance in the “important” games, with Jonathan Leko being a notable exception last season.
Boro may have lost at Fulham on Wednesday evening, but that was a much-changed side from the one that beat Sunderland at the weekend, and I can see the visitors being full of confidence from their unbeaten league start to the season. Unlike the hosts, they will feel no pressure at the Hawthorns and Albion will need to improve on all of their performances so far this season if they are to take maximum points.
I think there will be goals in this fixture and it could go either way. I certainly don’t feel confident that Albion can defeat the Premier League new boys, and if Boro start the game well, the Hawthorns faithful will become restless. My gut feel is that this game will finish all square.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
17 Apr 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Cox, Bednar)
Albion’s Record against Middlesbrough
|Premier League Record|